Why March?

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(That’s a sign a complete stranger gave to me on the way to the March when she saw I didn’t have one. That’s my friend Shon. I asked him to come with me because I didn’t want to go alone. He was already planning on going and happily walked with me.)

About a week ago, I attended an event at my law school where four women spoke about the impending hurdles women in our country will face under the new administration.

I learned that the stricter drug laws will affect females more than men. I learned that those seeking sanctuary will have a harder time of reaching safety, and most of those are women and children who need the protection. And I learned that basic healthcare will be harder (perhaps outright excluded in some instances) to obtain for women, especially transgender women.

While they commended us for marching and attending the event, they also said that the next step is to tell our story of why we marched in the first place. Stating statistics and blanket statements about the general repercussions of the current administration turning back the clock on our laws will not have an impact on those who cannot relate personally. But putting a familiar face on those statistics will. So here’s my story about why I marched:

When I was 16, and a very sexually-naive virgin, I was raped. After, I was lost and confused on many levels because I didn’t know what to do and felt I had no one to turn to.

The shame kept me from telling my friends. I, like many survivors, was too afraid to confide in others about what happened because in recounting the event to anyone, the bad decisions I made along the way would inevitably be revealed.

(This was later confirmed when I opened up about it to an ex-boyfriend. He said it was astounding how naive girls could be. This might have been a sentence or two into his response after I’d finished telling my story and was still wiping away my tears.)

The fear of someone telling me all the things I did wrong, and how those decisions led to a terrible situation, kept me from asking anyone for help.

(A.k.a., I wanted to avoid victim blaming)

The lack of communication that was the norm in my family kept me from telling my parents and other family members. I was afraid they’d look down on me, especially since we were a Catholic family and I was very involved in the church. Also, I never had a sex, or drug, talk with my parents. Any semblance of a talk amounted to, “No.” So that door wasn’t just closed, it’d never been opened.

My fear of getting in trouble overshadowed my need for help.

Granted, at that point, my self-worth and self-respect had been torn to pieces. So it’s not surprising that I thought I would be condemned instead of taken care of by family.

The one place I felt I could go and be safe and not judged was Planned Parenthood. And I found out I was right…

even though they should’ve turned me away.

The day after my rape, I went to work as usual and decided to visit Planned Parenthood during my lunch break to get checked out.

I showed up wearing business casual but told them I didn’t have insurance. I know now I most certainly did have insurance through my parents. At the time, though, I didn’t really know what it was or how it worked, and I was not about to go to my usual doctor in case it ever got back to my parents that I went to see a doctor for apparently no reason.

Plus, my doctor at the time was a parent of one of the girls I had attended grade school with. My very Catholic grade school in my very small town.

dewrr

They should’ve turned me away but they didn’t. The doctor checking me out recognized the signs of rape and asked if I wanted him to call the authorities. I immediately panicked and played it off as nothing really, it was just my first time was all,

I’m fine…

He made sure I knew I could come back any time if I changed my mind, that they keep a record of all their patients, and gave me Plan B (the morning after pill) just in case.

I never went back for anything else but I don’t know what I would’ve done had Planned Parenthood not been there. At the very least, I felt taken care of by someone. I’d been having suicidal thoughts even before this happened, so without Planned Parenthood I’m not sure what state my mental health would’ve been in.

Mine is not a unique story, unfortunately, but it’s also not the only type. There are so many stories out there about women who could not receive critical medical treatment for one reason or another but Planned Parenthood stepped in and took care of them.

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Yet Planned Parenthood is still seen as only one thing to many people: a baby killer. This is wrong, wildly inaccurate, and seriously concerning for the modern woman. But on that note (since our administration seems to think it’s the main focus of Planned Parenthood services), an abortion is not an easy thing to get. It takes a lot of discernment and consideration for the woman making the decision.

And it’s one that will stick with her for the rest of her life.

And to all those protestors who harass patients as they walk into Planned Parenthood clinics but claim to be pro-life, they’re hypocrites.

If they were pro-life, they would be more empathetic to the life staring back at them as they walk into the clinic trying to shield themselves from the onslaught of harassing picketers. And they can do that because that woman HAS eyes.

Fully developed ones!

She’s not a recently fertilized egg that still has a few months or so until it’s safe to even announce to Facebook that she’s pregnant.

The shame that those protestors and others like them place on women seeking help from places like Planned Parenthood for an abortion comes from a place of ignorance. Likewise, I realize now that the shame stemming from my rape is due to the rape culture in our country. We seem far too quick to judge and blame the victim instead of focusing on the perpetrator of the crime.

That’s like blaming the victim of a B&E for not having an alarm system.

Oh, your house got broken into, huh? Well did you have an alarm system? Did you put locks on your door? How many locks? What about bars on your windows? You know, windows without bars could send the wrong message to potential intruders…

The lack of empathy for those who have survived rape is poignantly astounding. The same is true for those going to Planned Parenthood.

And for those who come to our great country seeking asylum, refuge, and opportunity.

And for those who were born in the wrong body and need to take hormones and receive medical treatment and procedures to feel more themselves.

And for those who are not white.

And for those who are not male.

And for those who are deaf, blind, or have some sort of disability, whether physical or mental.

And for those who identify as anything other than heterosexual.

And for those native to our country, whose land they love and care for has slowly been taken away while they watch others destroy and pollute it.

And for those whose greatest worries are financial but have no way of ever relieving that worry, whether due to lack of education, resources, or access to our political system.

So that’s why I march. I may not understand what it’s like to be anything but myself (a white, cis, heterosexual female and rape survivor), but I do understand not being understood, and judged and condemned because of it.

So now the question isn’t ‘Why march?’ Rather, it’s ‘What now?’ What can we do now? The key is empathy over apathy but how do we convey that message? Well, if you’ve stuck with me this far I’d be willing to bet you’ve got a story too, so share it! We need to be heard and seen so people understand that we exist and we deserve equal rights, protections, and opportunities no matter how our first impression might affect the eyes of the observer.

Then get involved.

One of the panelists suggested being a mentor to or volunteering to help homeless youth. Their stories are tragic because a lot of them have the same ending: they had nowhere to go. They’ve been kicked out by parents who don’t agree with their ‘lifestyle choices’ or went through the foster care system only to be alone at age 18. There is an astounding number of transgender youth who need our help, love, and support.

Another panelist encouraged us to run for office. This is especially important for people who are not well represented in our political system and feel the calling to run for office. The more representation minority groups obtain in political office, the faster we can progress as a society.

While I understand the need to have more representation of minorities in office, I will encourage  and support others but not participate myself. That’s because I’m no politician, but I am a future-CEO of a Benefit Corporation, and I believe representation in any of the more influential positions in our society is a step forward.

So what are your strengths? And how can you apply them to support others who will feel left out, forgotten, and less-than under our current administration?

I obviously cannot possibly know your story or what your main concern is socially and politically, but this is one place you might want to start: Women’s March Resources page.

I joined the American Civil Liberties Union on campus and the national page has a ton of information on current concerns and how anyone can help: ACLU.

If those don’t work for you, the Google knows all.

Finally, as frustrating as it is, keep yourself informed. It’s so easy to turn a blind eye to the ugliness happening because it is so depressing. Personally, I cannot read the newspaper first thing in the morning. However, I force myself to eventually read it because we need to stay abreast of what’s happening and stay angry.

Because at this point anger is better than apathy.

It’s not cheap but the quality of the Wall Street Journal is worth it, in my opinion.

Since this post started with a (not-so-happy) story, I’d like to leave you with an uplifting one. Because no matter what action you take, any action forward helps.

I think most people have heard of the Starfish Story but I read a similar version the other day that I liked (because, dogs):

An old man was going for a walk on the beach when he noticed a little boy feeding a thin, shaggy looking stray dog with bits of bread. He went up to the boy and asked him why he was sharing his bread with the dogs.

The little boy answered, “Because they have nothing. No home, no family, and if I don’t feed them they will die.”

“But there are homeless dogs everywhere,” the old man replied. “So your efforts don’t really make a difference.”

The boy looked at the dog and stroked him. “But for him, for this little dog, it makes all the difference in the world.”

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